BROCKPORT-Paul Lombardo gathered his teary-eyed Lady Golden Falcons on the outfield grass at the College at Brockport softball complex on Tuesday evening and one by one, gave each a hug.
Then, he sat them down and did his best to make them all feel a little bit better.
It wasn't an easy task.
Falconer’s Abby Courtney rounds third after belting a three-run home run in Tuesday’s Class B Far West Regional softball game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
After a magical run that saw the once sub-.500 squad turn it on late to not only win a Section 6 Class B-2 title for the second time in three years but also an overall Class B title a few days later, the young Falconer squad suffered the slimmest of defeats on Tuesday evening, falling 7-6 to Section 5 champion Wayland-Cohocton (20-4) at the Far West Regional.
"I'm really big on trying to find sayings that are meaningful," Lombardo said of his difficult postgame speech. "And the first thing I said was, 'Someone once said that the next best thing to winning is getting outscored, because you got the opportunity (to play).'
"And the other one - this is my all-time favorite - is to cry not because it's over, smile because it happened."
One day, once the freshness of the defeat wears off, each of the 13 Lady Golden Falcons will undoubtedly be smiling at the thought of what they accomplished.
Lombardo, though, is already there.
"I'm smiling," he said. "I can't be any more proud of these girls We came up and used every one of our at-bats and you can't ask for anymore than that."
He had reason to be proud, for his Lady Golden Falcons never quit, even when they trailed by a four-run margin heading into the final frame.
Falconer, which had collected just three hits over the first six innings against Wayland-Cohocton starter Mackenzie Weber, racked up four hits and three runs in the seventh, a pair of which were plated when Kaylei Russell belted a two-run home run over the left-field fence, in a desperate effort to regain the lead.
Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be, and with runners on first and second Weber got the flyout she needed to end the game and secure for the Lady Eagles a place in this weekend's New York State Public High School Athletic Association softball tournament in Queensbury.
Weber, who cruised through the first three innings by sending down the first nine Falconer hitters in a row on just 23 pitches, finished by scattering eight hits with five strikeouts and a walk.
"Give (Weber) credit," Lombardo said. "She threw a great ballgame, she really did."
It was the right-hander's performance at the plate, however, that was most crucial to the Lady Eagles' victory.
Matching her counterpart, Abby Courtney (who broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning by drilling a three-run round tripper off the scoreboard to put Falconer ahead, 3-0), Weber, with two runners on, took Courtney's offering over the right-field fence in the fifth inning, putting Wayland-Cohocton ahead, 4-3, and giving the team a lead it would never relinquish.
Weber would drive in one more run an inning later for a game-high four total.
"How ironic that Abby hits a three-run homer off of her and (Weber) got it right back," Lombardo said. "Emotions got (to us) at that point, but (we) battled and that's all I could ask of them."
Disappointed by the sudden deficit, Falconer went down quickly in the fifth and then surrendered another three runs - on three errors - in the sixth, which ballooned the shortfall to four runs with only an inning remaining.
"We weren't as sharp as we should have been," Lombardo said of the fielding mistakes late, "but they're high school kids. I can turn on my television and see guys making $10 million a year booting plays, falling asleep on a play here and there. So you can't fault a ninth or 10th-grader for doing the same thing."
Courtney, who was solid throughout the playoffs, took the hard-luck loss, surrendering seven runs (five earned) on 11 hits with three strikeouts. The sophomore didn't issue a single walk.
At the plate, Courtney drove in a team-high three runs, while Russell followed with two hits in three at-bats with two RBIs and Brianna McFall went 2-fot-4 with a run scored and a run driven in.